A few months ago, Governor Gavin Newsom and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond appointed a task force to make recommendations to the State Legislature about the needed reforms of the state charter law. Of the 11 people on the Task Force, several had ties to the charter industry, two work for the California Charter Schools Association, and others are employed by charter schools. I had my doubts. But Superintendent Thurmond read my posts and called me to say, don’t judge me until you see what happens.

When the report was released, it was clear that a majority voted for important reforms of the charter law, while the charter advocates fought against, for example, allowing districts to take into account the fiscal impact of new charters on existing public schools. This was their way of saying, “let us drive public schools into fiscal crisis.” The Task Force did not agree.

Twenty percent of students in LA attend charters. At least 80% of LA charters have vacancies, contrary to phony claims about “long waiting lists.” The UTLA commissioned an audit which concluded that public schools lose $600 million every year to charters.

Howard Blume explained the recommendations of the Task Force report in the Los Angeles Times.


Blume writes:

When Los Angeles teachers went on strike in January, a major issue was charter schools: Union leaders talked about halting the growth of these privately operated campuses and exerting more local control over where and how these schools operate.

California took a step in that direction last week with the release of a much-awaited report by a task force set up in the wake of the six-day walkout.

The report supports new restrictions on charters and is expected to shape statewide policy.

One of the most important recommendations was to give a school district more authority when a charter seeks to open within its boundaries. Under current law, a school district must approve the opening of any charter that meets basic requirements.

The idea was to spark competition and give parents high-quality options for their children — and thousands of parents have responded enthusiastically. Charters enroll nearly one in five students in the nation’s second-largest school system.

But one result has been a proliferation of charters in some neighborhoods. Because state funding is based on enrollment, charters as well as district schools have been hard-pressed to attract enough students to remain financially viable, making it difficult to provide a stable academic program.

To address that situation, the task force recommends allowing a school district to forbid the opening of a new charter based on “saturation.” Charter critics say saturation already has become a problem in Boyle Heights and parts of South Los Angeles.

The recommendation on saturation received endorsement from the entire panel, which includes representatives of charter schools.

A smaller bloc, but still a panel majority, would go further. It recommended that school districts be able to deny a proposed charter based on financial harm to the host school district.

The panel did not release details on how individual members voted, but charter groups have vehemently opposed such a restriction. They have argued it could be used to deny any charter petition.

“There are elements that are deeply concerning and require more work ahead,” said Myrna Castrejón, president of the California Charter Schools Assn. “But ultimately, these efforts will play a pivotal role in charting a path forward for California’s students….”

One problem up and down the state has been inconsistent oversight of charters. The panel said California should create one or more entities to develop consistent standards and to train school districts in how to use them.

Some recommendations received majority but not unanimous favor, including limiting when another agency can overrule a local school district’s decision to reject a new charter or close down an existing one.

A majority also wanted to prohibit school districts from authorizing charters located outside district boundaries. Some tiny districts used these faraway charters to generate revenue but provided little to no oversight, as outlined in a Times investigation.

A panel majority also recommended a one-year moratorium on “virtual” charters, which enroll students in an online program. Prosecutors recently indicted 11 people from online charters on criminal charges of conspiracy, personal use of public money without legal authority, grand theft and financial conflict of interest.